Louisiana election put off; 4 states' to go on

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, center, speaks about the new coronavirus, while Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, right, listens on Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. The number of cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus are on the rise in Louisiana. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, center, speaks about the new coronavirus, while Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, right, listens on Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. The number of cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus are on the rise in Louisiana. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

BATON ROUGE -- Louisiana's governor on Friday postponed the state's presidential primary because of fears of the coronavirus, making it the first state to delay its election because of the outbreak.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order delaying the April 4 primary until June 20, spokeswoman Christina Stephens said. In a statement, he described the step as "necessary to protect the health and safety of the people of Louisiana from the risk of COVID-19."

Elsewhere, election officials in the four states holding primaries next week say they have no plans to postpone voting in the nation's widespread disruptions. Instead, they are taking steps to ensure that voters can cast ballots and polling places are clean.

They have been scrambling to recruit replacements for poll workers dropping out over fears of contracting the virus, providing cotton swabs for voters to use on touch-screen machines and extending absentee voting deadlines.

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"We're definitely voting," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said at a news conference Friday. "They voted during the Civil War. We're going to vote."

The top elections officials from the four states -- Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio -- said in a joint statement that the vote will go on Tuesday, saying they were confident the elections would be secure and safe. They encouraged healthy poll workers to show up.

In Louisiana, early voting was scheduled to start in a week. But with a large number of elderly poll workers and worldwide concerns about people gathering in groups, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin asked Edwards to sign the executive order, saying he didn't feel comfortable continuing with the election plans.

"This weighty decision has been made out of an absolute abundance of caution for Louisiana's voters, voting officials and the general public as a whole," said Ardoin, a Republican.

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As of Friday, the number of residents testing positive in the state had jumped to three dozen, centered largely in the New Orleans area, according to the state health department's latest figures. The tests are awaiting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Edwards had already declared a public-health emergency for the state.

Some states might be able to send all voters ballots that they could fill out and mail back, but that will largely depend on particular circumstances. For some, it may not be logistically possible.

Louisiana's decision to delay the primary puts the state outside the Democratic National Committee's deadline for holding primaries and naming delegates to be credentialed for the July 13-16 convention in Milwaukee.

The rules require states to hold nominating contests by June 9 and submit delegate rosters for convention floor credentials by June 20, the new date that Louisiana has selected for its primary. Missing those deadlines could result in a state losing half of its votes on the convention floor.

That almost certainly would harm former Vice President Joe Biden, as he is a heavy favorite to score a large delegate gain over Bernie Sanders in Louisiana. It's also possible, however, that Louisiana simply renders itself moot, with Biden pulling away in delegates and in position to make big gains, given that the primaries on Tuesday will take place as planned.

Jim Roosevelt, co-chairman of the Democrat committee's powerful Rules and Bylaws Committee, said Friday that the deadlines remain in place. But, he added, "We are sort of playing this process by ear."

Information for this article was contributed by Melinda Deslatte, Bill Barrow, Christina A. Cassidy, Julie Carr Smyth, Jonathan J. Cooper, Kelli Kennedy, Frank Bajak, Brian Witte, John O'Connor, Geoff Mulvihill and Todd Richmond of The Associated Press.

A Section on 03/14/2020

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